Quotas die slow
South African sports minister Makhenkesi Stofile made headlines around the world recently when he stated that racial quotas in the country's top teams should be abolished in favour of a heavily funded drive to provide more opportunities for the country's previously disadvantaged young sportsmen.
Stofile's comments were just that, comments. The official removal of quotas, if and when it happens, is still a long way off, probably years. Stofile was reporting to the notoriously hardcore parliamentary portfolio committee on sport, which has been increasingly and understandably frustrated by the nation's lack of progress in transforming the demographics of the major sports teams - rugby more than cricket.
Stofile's remarks were merely the beginning of what may be a long and invariably messy process of registering the increasing unhappiness of the country's sportsmen, especially cricketers - of all races - with a selection system that is driving deeper and deeper wedges of division between them.
Although it was supposed to be kept secret, South Africa's nationally contracted players, and the dozen below them who constitute the next generation, held a meeting two months ago, before the tour of Pakistan, at which they unanimously agreed that quotas (or "targets" as the euphemism goes) were damaging the game. They signed an agreement to this effect, which was subsequently leaked to the media before being handed to officials.
South African Cricketers' Association (SACA) chief executive Tony Irish confirmed this week that the top 25 cricketers in the country had called upon Cricket South Africa (CSA) to do away with quotas in the selection of the national team.
"The players feel that as soon as a racial number is set for selection of the team (whether or not one calls this a quota or a target) it leads to a divisive dynamic within the team, and it is also degrading to the players of colour who should be there on merit yet are labelled a quota/target player," Irish said.
While that may make perfect sense to the rest of the world, South Africa's unique apartheid history means that generations of sportsmen were denied the opportunity of ever playing for their country. Those men now constitute the administration generation and they reason that years spent incarcerated on Robben Island and similar prisons can only ever be repaid by the guarantee of black faces in national teams.
|Stofile has placed a stake in the ground by becoming the first of the administrators to admit that national teams will never truly be representative until there are enough black school children with the experience and funding assistance to pursue a career in sports|
Stofile, however, has placed a stake in the ground by becoming the first of that generation to say "enough" and to admit that national teams will never truly be representative until there are enough black school children with the experience and funding assistance to pursue a career in sports and compete for places alongside their far more privileged and wealthy white colleagues.
Irish says the country's professional players still support the principle of reserving places in first-class squads for black players - currently 40 per cent of the franchise contracts - but that they believe final selection for the national side should be on merit alone. "... This provides opportunity for these players to be amongst the elite group of professionals from which the team is selected," Irish said.
"But actual selection from there should be on merit. This is in line with the statement made by the minister that all players be exposed and given a proper opportunity. The players' proposals have been referred by Cricket SA to be dealt with by its transformation review committee."
Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency